Ka’ana Kitchen Is Worth Every Shekel
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
Whoever said “the best things in life are free” clearly never dined at Ka’ana Kitchen in the Andaz Maui.
Alas, pricey is the way the gourmet resort cookie crumbles, but we promise you this: it’s worth it.
For those that take to more “creative” measures to fund your new astronomical gastronomical habit, we offer a silver lining to a newfound life of crime: during the long stretch in prison, you can reminisce about the grilled octopus and swoon anew.
The menu is simple.
A single sheet of paper means no forehead crinkle or massaging of the temples from the absurd amount of choices you have to eliminate before the final decision.
Portions, meanwhile, are diminutive, so plan to order more than one item per person regardless.
Your options are divided into six categories, sorted left to right by type and product source: Ka’ana Classics; Surfing Goat Dairy; Kona Cold Lobsters; Craig Nihei and Bryan Otani, Local Farmers; Tagima Wagyu; and Vegetarian.
We started with an item from the “Classics” row, Watermelon Salad ($15).
Popular lore indicates that the watermelon feta salad was first introduced into the fine dining culinary rotation by Wolfgang Puck. He, in turn, originally got the notion from a dish friends brought to one if his regular potluck-style weekend dinners.
Like any great artist, Ka’ana Kitchen’s Chef Isaac Bancaco recognized a good idea he they saw it and made it his own.
A slab of the sweet, juicy fruit is pressed, its flavors condensed. The light, sugary freshness is balanced by the presence of arugula, feta, horseradish and crushed candied walnuts.
The net result is refreshing and light, and in the days that followed our first encounter with Ka’ana Kitchen’s version, it occupied a wholly unhealthy portion of our brain space.
Watermelon Salad, you complete me.
The Ahi Tataki ($22) arrives with burrata cheese, fresh local grape tomato slices, lilikoi gelatin, and a creamy garlicky sauce.
A Hawaiian take on the caprese salad, you could put burrata on a matchbook and we’d eat it. Well, maybe not, but we’d lick it off for sure.
That stated, combine the cream-infused mozzarella with tomatoes and ahi and try not to get stabbed by our fork.
Low funds and an unabashed obsession with the Lobster Ceviche ($23) may very well culminate in a surefire way to confirm whether or not orange really is the new black.
Worry about accessorizing that fashion dilemma later, as the spectacular mix of crustacean, avocado, a fried plantain chip and a lilikoi-infused leche de tigre demand your full attention.
Fresh and bright, familiar yet novel: why can’t the portion size be seventeen times larger!?
The Grilled Octopus ($18) fogged and distorted the very lens through which we view life.
In a good way.
Proceed with caution, as the impossibly tender tako and wonderfully lemony asparagus will likely make robbing a bank in order to afford more – Gobs more. Tons more. Octopi-on-the-endangered-species-list more – seem like an increasingly good idea.
The menu (twice) mentions an ingredient called ‘Secret Sicily’… and we have no idea what that is.
Is that a thing or do they mean sweet cicely, the anise-flavored herb -or- is this just part of a complex plot to brainwash our minds with subliminal commands to dine here daily?
Anything is possible, but all that you really need to know is that the smoky, charred grill flavor of the octopus blends perfectly with the classified, code-worded ingredients on the plate.
You will – as previously mentioned – crave more. You will come back tomorrow. You will order five plates of this. You will pay with unmarked bills and tip your waitstaff handsomely.
Speaking of whom, service is efficient and knowledgeable. Readily available without being smothering, on both visits our waiters were polished and proficient.
The restaurant’s open, modern space echoes the rest of the resort; high ceilings, wood and concrete abound. Take in sweeping ocean views in one direction or an open-concept theater-style kitchen in the other.
Like to watch?
Ka’ana Kitchen offers front row seating right on the line.
There you can supervise as the Abalone Risotto ($31) is prepared.
As for the dish itself, what can we say?
There’s abalone in it.
There’s an onsen (a sexy word for slow poached) egg on it.
Our face was in it.
The dish hits all notes: sweet abalone meat contrasts with the rich and creamy risotto and savory, luscious egg. Fresh arugula leaves add a refreshing balance of bitterness. The dish finishes with the woody, spicy bite of black pepper.
Time that might usually go to fashioning a shiv or avoiding your new cell mate will be happily occupied with memories of this dish.
Topped with peanuts and a bundle of enoki mushrooms, our Ribeye Cap ($26) came on a vinegary salad of frisée, Thai basil, bell pepper and thinly sliced onion.
The flavors are complex, yet subtle and it is clear that every element of the dish – like all the others – has been carefully considered.
All told, we didn’t encounter a weak link anywhere, although our personal bias lies solidly with the seafood dishes.
There is one little glitch, however.
Did we mention it’s kinda expensive?
Granted, it’s all relative, but if you need help rationalizing the sticker shock just remind yourself it’s perfectly normal to have a second mortgage these days.
Raid that 401K and bon appetit!
Ka’ana Kitchen is located at 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive inside the Andaz Maui. They are open daily from 6:30 to 11 a.m. for breakfast and 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner.